A different view on the left versus right online debate

In the regular debate about about how the right can catch up online, several points are often missed. The first is that the left has developed a movement based on the interconnectedness of people inside the movement. People get recruited, energized, and leveraged. This may or may not be as much a function of larger demographic and political trends, as it has something to do with the netroots specifically.

At the same time, the right has often been better at campaign mechanics, especially in recent years. Our assumption seems to be that if we get enough people to go and vote in this country — which we still believe is just right of center — then we can win. If McCain wins, it will probably be because his ideas are basically in line with a just-right-of-center country, while Obama’s may not be.

In recent years, our political-technological innovations have focused on turning out normal people at unbelievable levels. In that context, I want to highlight something from Jose Antonio Vargas hints at this in his piece on Cyrus Krohn and the RNC:

[…] Then-Rep. Bobby Jindal was an attractive candidate, Krohn says, and it was projected to be a tight race. For 3 1/2 months, using online micro-targeting and data-matching, he identified a set of voters and turned them out to the polls.

Statewide turnout for the Louisiana race was 46 percent. Of those voters who interacted with Krohn’s online targeting — he won’t say how much of the total vote — 76 percent voted, he claims. Krohn says he’s not suggesting that the RNC is responsible for Jindal’s win. What it does suggest, however, is that the model could have significant impact on voter turnout, he adds.

Technology should lower the costs of things that campaigns already do, and those lowered costs should allow new ideas and techniques. The 72-hour program massively increased the efficiency of the GOP’s GOTV efforts, at the same time that the RNC and Bush-Cheney got better at recruiting more volunteers to do those things.

The Louisiana story makes clear that we likely still have significant advantages here. Our GOTV is almost certainly tremendously more efficient, helped by the things that Cyrus is working on, existing technologies like 72-hour, and non-electoral technology developments. These efficiencies will allow us to stretch our precious GOTV dollars and volunteer time by deploying them where they make the most incremental difference in actually delivering the next vote.

If this ends up being a close election, or a very close election, it is going to come down to electoral technology. Maybe it will be ACORN crashing the rolls and delivering illegal voters. Maybe it will be Cyrus massively increasing turnout and optimizing our GOTV through what he is doing. Maybe it will be just that they recruit and register and vote more people than we do, or vice versa. But my hunch is that if we win a nail-biter, what Cyrus is doing will deserve a big chunk of the credit.

I don’t want to downplay what the left is doing at all. We clearly are not competing with them in this space. Social media should give us more opportunities to communicate with voters and future voters alike. And we should be able to exploit the efficiencies and new modes of communication to better organize people.

But in some places, we are doing very, very well. And Jose’s story on Cyrus should make that clear.